Big deal, Big House: Wisconsin poses tough test for Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — No. 15 Wisconsin is coming to the Big House, and everyone is paying attention.
“This is one of those games that you see on the schedule,” star linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said Monday. “You got to get those first six games out of the way, but you know this game is coming. Now that it’s here, this is all you’ve been waiting for.
“This is the part of the season where it defines your whole season and what your team wants to do.”
What No. 12 Michigan (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) wants is a Big Ten title and spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Saturday night’s game at Michigan Stadium opens a demanding three-game stretch — Michigan State on Oct. 20, a bye and No. 8 Penn State at home Nov. 3.
Jim Harbaugh was 4-4 against those three in his first three seasons as Michigan coach, losing all three matchups last season.
Last year, a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin started a three-game Michigan losing streak to close a once promising season. Michigan led that game 10-7 midway through the third quarter but quarterbacks Brandon Peters and John O’Korn combined to connect on 11 of 26 passes.
“That was a game that we had it won,” Bush said. “There were opportunities that we missed and we didn’t capitalize on them. I think this year we’re a lot better at that.”
This year, Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson has directed Michigan to five straight wins after a season-opening loss at Notre Dame. He’s completing nearly 69 percent of his passes.
Bush and the nation’s top-ranked defense will have to contain sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor and steady junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook to end Wisconsin’s run of 17 straight Big Ten regular-season wins, currently the nation’s longest such streak.
Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0) tripped up on Sept. 15 with a 24-21 home loss to BYU but took down Iowa and Nebraska since to open Big Ten play.
Hornibrook is 24-4 as Wisconsin’s starter, including 18-2 in the Big Ten.
“He has really good stature in the pocket,” Harbaugh said. “He can get hot. He throws those intermediate dig routes as well as anyone can. He’s a very experienced guy, played in big games. He’s a really good quarterback. Really good quarterbacks, players, they’re going to give you problems.”
Taylor, who rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns as the Badgers thrashed winless Nebraska 41-24 on Saturday, is guided by an excellent offensive line, notably center Tyler Biadasz, tackle David Edwards and guards Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel.
“Both sides of the ball, they’re really good on both lines and physical,” Harbaugh said. “I’m going through that right now, how difficult it is — because right now, they’re superior.”
Wisconsin has won five of its last eight gamsa with Michigan, which leads the overall series 50-15-1.
Harbaugh did not offer any updates on his injured players, including defensive end Rashan Gary (shoulder), who missed Michigan’s 42-21 win against Maryland on Saturday; defensive linemen Michael Dwumfour and Carlo Kemp, who left the game with apparent foot or leg injuries. Running back Chris Evans has missed three straight games with a leg strain but practiced last week.